Here’s the bottom line of the brutally honest appraisal of the Youngstown City School District from Chief Executive Officer Krish Mohip: There are forces bound and determined to undermine any progress in pulling the urban system out of the academic cellar.
Mohip’s appraisal can be found on YouTube in a job-interview video posted by the Boulder (Colo.) Valley School District.
The veteran educator from Chicago who has been CEO in Youngstown since June 2016 is a finalist for the superintendent’s job in Boulder. Late last week, it was revealed that he’s also a finalist for the top job in the Fargo (N.D.) School District.
There’s a very good chance he’ll leave Youngstown if an offer is too good to turn down.
Why? Because Mohip is experiencing the same level of frustration that forced one of his predecessors, Dr. Connie Hathorn, to take a job in Arkansas.
The two men have a lot in common, including their impatience with the status quo. They believe bold action is necessary to save the failing urban school district, that the power structure in the community is responsible for the academic decline and that special interests have personal agendas.
Most revealingly, Mohip and Hathorn aren’t afraid to speak their minds.
The former Youngstown superintendent who is black angered black members of the school board and some so-called black leaders when he publicly berated inner city parents and guardians for not taking an interest in their children’s education.
Hathorn was particularly incensed by the poor turnout at parent-teacher meetings – and said so.
The enemies of change decided that Hathorn had gone rogue and, thus, sought to make his life so miserable that he would ultimately give up and leave.
He did, and is now superintendent in the Watson Chapel School District in Arkansas.
But why would Mohip leave the position of chief executive officer and the dictatorial powers that come with it?
The CEO post is a creation of House Bill 70, which the Republican majority in the General Assembly passed and Republican Gov. John Kasich signed into law.
The law is designed to restructure failing school districts and is commonly referred to as the “Youngstown Plan” because it was launched in Youngstown.
HB 70 places policy-making authority in the hands of a special academic distress commission, thus marginalizing the elected school board.
Therein lies the problem. Members of the Youngstown Board of Education are doing all they can to ensure that HB 70 does not succeed in turning around the district’s academic fortunes.
The board has several allies in this endeavor, including the Youngstown Education Association, the Ohio Education Association and Democratic politicians.
The constant bickering, court challenges and labor grievances are taking their toll on Mohip and members of the distress commission. Three of the five commissioners resigned, and the chief executive officer could well be on his way out of town.
To understand why, consider the comment he made about Youngstown during his interview with members of the Boulder Valley School District:
“It’s an interesting job. It’s like nowhere else in the country. … It’s not a space I necessarily want to be in, but I took that job only because I felt like it was the only way to save public education for that district. I knew it was never going to be a long-term plan for me. It’s too difficult of a job for one person to do.”
As for House Bill 70, Mohip told the Boulder officials “[It] was needed for progress to be made.”
Indeed, that was the argument made by Gov. Kasich when he urged Mahoning Valley business and community leaders to find solutions to Youngstown’s academic collapse. Their recommendations formed the basis of HB 70.
But even with enactment of the Youngstown Plan, the governor made it clear time was running out for the troubled school district.
In 2016, Kasich was at Liberty Middle School to cut the ribbon at a new fitness center and had a private meeting with Mohip. He reiterated his support for the CEO and the distress commission.
The governor also met with this writer and let it be known he was impressed with Mohip’s commitment to pull the district out of its academic tailspin.
But Kasich also said he will do whatever is necessary to ensure that Youngstown’s children are no longer punished by a dysfunctional school system.
Thus, if Mohip decides to leave, there’s the very real possibility that the Ohio Department of Education could step in and turn the failing schools into charters under the sponsorship of the state.
Here’s a reality check for those self-styled leaders who continue to battle HB 70: There are 10,000 school-age children in Youngstown, but only 5,000 are enrolled in the district. The exodus began years ago, and no one seemed to care.
In the extreme, if the academic progress being made is undermined, the Youngstown school system could be dissolved and students sent to adjoining districts. That’s something for the enemies of change to think about.